The metaverse is still in its nascent stage, yet the virtual world has managed to start a huge debate on its security and digital identity.
The technology is said to be the next “trillion-dollar opportunity”, as numbers of large businesses and startups show interest in the concept of virtual spaces and allow consumers to do what’s beyond their reach in real life. In a recent survey by CB Insights, the firm revealed Metaverse to revolutionize at least thirteen industries such as gaming, retail, education, fashion, and more.
Metaverse: Adopted By Tech Giants! Is it Safe?
Metaverse is still in its development phase and has been able to catch quite the attention of users. A tech giant, Microsoft announced on May 24th, the development of an “industrial metaverse”, where the workers will be wearing augmented reality headsets and manage supply chains. On the other side, an investment capital firm “Andreessen Horowitz” that gaming architecture and technologies will be the key block in building Metaverse.
Any user can create a digital identity in Metaverse in the form of “Avatars”. Chief Operating Officer of SandBox, a blockchain-based metaverse project asserts that “by using avatars, any user can express themselves in ways that weren’t possible before. Moreover, carrying and owning identity by carrying it through an NFT across decentralized platforms and virtual world is solid and easy to understand the application of Metaverse.”
The question was raised, when a young woman complained of being physically harassed on the metaverse platform. Is metaverse safe? The anonymity of the players certainly has its advantages, however, what about criminals, or abusive activities conducted in the virtual world?
The Dark Side of Metaverse: Endless Possibilities for Criminals
The concept of the Metaverse is not new, the online games and second life has been existing for twenty years. Equivalent gaming companies like Fortnite and Minecraft showcase hundreds of millions of gamers with vast supporting economies.
In simple words, Metaverse is a concept platform for gaming, meetings, and socializing. According to Gartner, by 2026, 25% of people will spend at least one hour every day in the metaverse. While metaverse may have a future in NFTs, AI, digital currencies, VRs, etc, many large businesses, do not support the platform as it may increase the risk of security and threat of fraud.
Large tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, etc. are working hard to create Metaverse, a virtual world for the public to attend gym classes, conduct meetings, play games, etc. In October, the chief executive and founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg announced that he believes in Metaverse, so much so that he changed the name of his company to “Meta”. However, a huge concern has surfaced surrounding metaverse. Harassment, bullying, hate speech, and sexual assault were common on the platform with only a few ways to report these behaviors.
Even with Web2.0, security problems already exist with credential theft, impersonation, technological debt, social engineering, scams, vulnerabilities, espionage, and others. Experts suggest that these problems are only going to follow us in Metaverse. The situation may become more damaging in the virtual universe.
The Story of Chanelle Siggens: A 29-year-Old Metaverse User
With the emerging trend of Metaverse, a story of harassment emerged as the 29yr old Chanelle Siggens shares her experience on the platform. The incident took place when the player put on her “Occulus Quest VR headset” to play her favorite game, “Population One”, when she saw an avatar approaching her avatar. The player then simulated groping and ejaculating on her avatar. To her shock and surprise, she repeatedly asked the player to stop. The only reply that came from the other side was that “It was Metaverse, and he will do what he wants to do”. However, after a while, he walked away.
According to the Nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate, in a famous virtual reality game, VRChat, a violating incident or harassment occurs every seven minutes. For metaverse, bullying and harassment can be more severe than it is in Web 2. Virtual Reality makes people feel every unwanted touch real which only heightens the sensory experience. Mrs. Siggens, states that “when someone gropes you in the metaverse, the mind confuses it to happen in reality, with the full metaverse, the effect will be much more intense”.
Social Engineering Techniques
One of the basic, yet successful attack techniques that cybercriminals utilize today is “phishing scams”. Since playing with someone’s psychology is effective, one of the major challenges that metaverse will face is social engineering.
Although Metaverse is still developing, the platform has been a victim of fraudulent NFTs, dubious Web 3.0 projects, and metaverse land sales. Decentraland is a popular Ethereum-based digital world, which was once impersonated by phishing scams. Many users were tricked into entering their private wallet keys allowing the scammers to steal their crypto assets.
In Metaverse, cybercriminals can use fake technology and impersonate popular institutions and trusted avatars to scam users. Therefore, a need to verify the authenticity of avatars and organizations is the need of the hour. Organizations must find a way to protect and secure user identity without compromising user privacy. The users must also be guided on how to identify social engineering attacks and protect their identities.
Software Malware And Risks
Malware to hack user wallets and steal cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and other forms of digital assets has already been used. Ransomware and cyber extortion are some of the lucrative cyber threats. There may be different forms of cybercriminals in the metaverse, but it is still a huge concern to the security of the users.
The underlying architecture of the technology and vulnerabilities in smart contracts has raised the percentage of attacks on the present web 3.0 platforms According to the Crypto crime report of 2022 by Chain analysis, large thefts were conducted on DeFi protocols due to code abuse.
Other than software vulnerabilities, and code abuse, it is essential to understand that VR (virtual reality), and AR (Augmented Reality) headsets although wearables are small computers with software and memory making them attack targets. Research conducted by Rutgers University shows that they could hack into AR and VR sets to get important data through voice commands including passwords, and credit and debit card data.
Is Metaverse the Future of Cybercrime?
It is important to take preventive measures and check the risk and security of potential vulnerabilities. Before launching the platform, it is important for companies to train their developers to check for risks, and test applications before going live.
Metaverse s a virtual world, and with anonymity, any user can harass or abuse users leaving them with zero punishment. The 29ye old, Chanelle Siggens states that although she reported the player, there is no definitive information of any strict actions taken against the player.
Coming back to social engineering scams, and software malware, any new technology has the disadvantage of becoming a safe haven for scammers and cybercriminals. It is important to understand how technology works, to avoid becoming a victim of phishing attempts.
Policymakers must sit down to develop a regulation against crimes and protect the users. Experts can also implement blockchain-based digital identities as a part of their security system.
Can Blockchain-Based Digital identities Help Prevent CyberCrimes in Metaverse?
Security and privacy have become a top concern in the web3.0 generation, especially in Metaverse. An identity management technology will help the companies to assure their users are safe from abusers, bullies, scammers, and criminals.
Metaverse can be the future of technology if proper security and verification programs are taken into consideration. Today, among so many vulnerabilities, various companies are using the technology to conduct meetings and conferences.
Various gamers are using the platform to interact with other players and take their gaming experience to the next level. While various large tech companies are already implementing the technology, the platform requires a stable security feature to enable trust among customers.
It is the only technology that can build “trust” among users to believe in technology. With time, the metaverse is emerging as the future of the web, with enormous potential for the economy, and other industries. With new technology, scammers find new homes to launder money. The solution is to use top-notch technology and software to prevent them.